Can Europe Make It?

An agora on the European political space: why is Europe the decisive political space for the Left?

All countries within the European Union – and beyond – face the epochal challenge that there is no longer a shared conception of what a state is. A starting point and an invitation.

Caterina Di Fazio
16 June 2018

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June 13, 2018, Catania, Sicily. The Aquarius arrives in Sicily carrying more than 900 migrants as a diplomatic standoff continues over Italy's refusal to let the rescue ship dock. Orietta Scardino/Press Association. All rights reserved.

The Aquarius affair made clear that the European political space understands itself as only able to permit unrestricted freedom of movement within its internal borders – the Schengen area – by denying movement across its external borders.

Moreover, the fact that refugee camps are increasingly emerging on the borders of the European area – and even outside it – is a concrete manifestation of the way that Europe, by means of an externalization of its borders, has been reshaping its imaginary geography. This perspective is somewhat vexed by the indeterminacy of where to locate state boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea and, consequently, by the indeterminacy of deciding which state is responsible for saving refugees from the water.

Ultimately, it is always up to the government to decide whether any given state has any obligation to grant security to refugees. Put differently, although a refugee convention exists, whether any particular state is bound to this convention still remains dependent on the decision of the state’s sovereignty – i.e. it is entirely at the discretion of this sovereign will to consider someone a refugee and grant him right of asylum. In this sense, international law does not seem to have escaped the Schmittian dichotomy between normal and exceptional, along with the idea that the state of exception always calls for a sovereign decision.

It follows that the development of an ethics of our borders is one of the most pressing tasks of our time, and this is even more the case given the geopolitical situation in which Europe finds itself, whereby many European countries are currently experiencing a permanent state of exception – something that even Carl Schmitt would scarcely have attempted to justify.

The so-called ‘refugee crisis’ and the nation-state

Indeed, in response to the so-called refugee crisis, Europe has produced the idea of a direct association between securing one’s existence and closing borders, such that the relationship with the “other” happens on the basis of fear. Fear, far from being reduced, remains central on an emotional level, even while we witness the constant effort to reduce it on what we might call the physical level.

The act of building walls or reinforcing – even militarily – the borders, is aimed simply at stopping people from moving. The construction of walls corresponds to the attempt to suspend freedom of movement across the borders, thereby channeling fear. In short, the act of containing mobility responds to the need to limit fear. All this illustrates that the Westphalian order is currently being shaken apart by the political and ethical significance of these refugee movements.

In the modern world, the nation-state is the main political space. However, all countries within the European Union – and beyond – are currently facing the epochal issue that there is no longer a shared conception of what a state is. We are now confronted, if not with the potential twilight of nation-states, certainly with the emergence of new political spaces. The current political challenges must therefore be addressed, starting with the problem of the permanence of a political space which, however, requires a new definition – one that is capable of accounting for liquid borders and the movement of refugees.

Public debate

Now more than ever, it is necessary to create opportunities for a public debate to think about how to reorganize the European political space and reintegrate within it. Seizing on the idea of Prague’s night of philosophy from Étienne Tassin and Étienne Balibar, we are calling for an Agora on the European Political Space – a new initiative that goes in this direction. The subtitle, quoting Balibar, could be: “Pas d’autre France sans autre Europe”, “ Not another France without another Europe” – a formula which could clearly be applied to all the countries of the EU. This cultural and political event on the future of the Left in Europe will discuss the potential for each nation’s Left to shape the European political space.


June 11, 2018. Demonstrators protest at the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport against the failure to allow the Aquarius to be landed in Italian ports. NurPhoto/ Press Association. All rights reserved.Our first agora was held at the Sorbonne on May 25, thanks to the sponsorship of NoSoPhi. It brought together representatives of the French, Italian and British Left: Étienne Balibar, Luke Cooper, Simone Oggionni, Antonio Panzeri, Andrea Pisauro and Nadia Urbinati. Three more agora are currently being organised and will take place in Italy in September and in the UK next year.

We hope for these to be the first of many occasions to talk about the future of the European political space in this moment of appalling political instability. The idea is to open a permanent political debate, with both intellectuals and politicians of the EU Left, centred, each time, on a few subjects which determine our contemporary political experience, such as capitalism – fragility and labour – socialism vs populism – migration and citizenship – equality. This initiative, like those planned for the future, will be a cultural event (i.e. there will be no party logos). Moreover, these events will not be academic, but open to everyone and involving all citizens. This is why, more than that of a roundtable, we seek an agora, as the participation of the audience will indeed be central to our task.

The video of the first agora is available on our website, where details regarding the next three agora will soon be available. Many prominent figures of the academic and political European landscape will be participating: Riccardo Caporali, Sandro Mezzadra and Maurizio Ricciardi (Università degli studi di Bologna), Nadia Urbinati (Columbia University), Caterina di Fazio (Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne), Darian Meacham (Maastricht University), Francesco Tava (UWE Bristol); MEP Guillaume Balas, Virginie Rozière and Flavio Zanonato, Luke Cooper (Another Europe is Possible), Niccolo Milanese (European Alternatives), Simone Oggionni (Movimento Democratico Progressista), Andrea Pisauro (DIEM UK) and Sara Prestianni (Immigration Specialist).

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